But the brand did not die

MacLaren McCann's Doug Turney says consumers can drive you out of business, but they can't kill your brand.

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By Doug Turney

The trade press has been heralding the rise of the consumer recently. Column after column thrums with pronouncements that consumers are taking control of brands — that they now hold all the power in determining the fate of brands.

Let’s be clear: consumers play an important role in the success of brands, but they do not make them and they cannot kill them. They can drive brands out of business, but they cannot cause them to die. There is a difference.

Take the example of Bugatti. Here is a brand that was once the epitome of motoring excellence. Bugatti was the standard in luxury, exclusivity, elegance and aesthetics. It was conceived and nurtured by Ettore Bugatti, who saw himself as an engineer-artist. Or maybe it was the other way around. He built the world’s finest precision manufacturing facility in Molsheim in the French region of Alsace. Bugatti’s exacting standards and the love he lavished on the brand helped his company flourish into one of France’s great prestige businesses.

Then tragedy struck with the death of Ettore’s son Jean in 1939. The successor Ettore had hoped would steer the beloved Bugatti brand after his own death was gone. When Ettore died in 1947 the company fell into the hands of a series of managers who cut corners and compromised standards. One even moved the operation from Molsheim, the very heart of the brand, to Italy. In short, the brand was simply not behaving in a way that was consistent with its reputation. Its well-heeled following diminished, and by 1963 the business was defunct.

But the brand did not die. It still had real value. It lived on in the hearts of at least a few. One of them was Volkswagen’s leader Ferdinand Piëch, who in 1998 acquired the Bugatti brand. Under his loving touch the brand and the business flourished once more. Piëch moved operations back to France. He restored the old Molsheim factory with modern technology. Today Bugatti is widely recognized as the pinnacle of automotive perfection. Why? I suggest it’s because the people who understood what Bugatti stood for took action to ensure the brand did what the brand said it would do. They walked the talk. That’s what sustains brands.

A brand has always been a symbiotic relationship between its creators/owners and the people who consume it. Companies and consumers each have a stake in the success of brands. Consumers consume them, that’s why they’re called consumers. But it’s the company that invents the brand, builds it and sustains it. It controls what makes the brand different and how the brand behaves in the world.

You could say a brand is a democracy. We all get a vote. But the vote that counts the most is the one cast by the keepers of the brand. Their actions, or lack of them, determines most how their brand fares.

Doug Turney-9779-2Doug Turney is the president and CEO of MacLaren McCann.

Image via Shutterstock.